Arguing with Anita

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If you’re anything like us, odds are you knew next to nothing about Anita Sarkeesian before the whole shit storm around her started. We’d seen one or two videos, but that was about it. And then Gamergate happened.

That was, to put it mildly, a complete clusterfuck of intolerance, stupidity and just all around terrible behaviour in which no side is without blame. As such, we will not be bringing it up again. If you missed the whole thing and want to find out what it’s about, feel free to google it.

We will tell you a bit about Anita, just in case you wandered on to the article by accident. Born in 1983, Anita is a feminist public speaker, media critic and blogger. However, most of you will probably know her for either her video series Tropes vs Women in Video Games or the one she started later with fan donations named Feminist Frequency.

The goal of both of these series is to explore the representation of women in pop culture narratives. It is intended as an educational resource to encourage critical thinking and inspire the creators of certain media.

All in all, a very good goal and one that’s well worth supporting. After all, women still get the short stick a lot in movies, shows and video games. Certain negative tropes are still around, despite the fact that most people will tell you those tropes are dumb and outdated.

Women are still often little more than a love interest or, worse, a pair of tits to stare at when teenagers in the audience get bored.

The struggle for equal treatment is still going on and this is just another area to aim for improvement in. Of course we’ve seen perfectly strong and independent female characters in popular culture, but they are still a bit of a rarity between all the scruffy, white dudes who communicate through emotionless grunts.

However, while we don’t see why people could have a problem with this cause, we can see why people would have a problem with miss Sarkeesian herself. In a way it’s obvious, because having the unpopular opinion is unlikely to do you many favours, but that’s not quite what we mean.

We’re a little worried Anita might be going a bit overboard now.

Sure, she’s passionate and that’s great, but she’s attacking really strange things lately and frankly, her arguments aren’t exactly bulletproof.

Let’s start with the older example, Mad Max.

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On May 19th, Anita posted the following on Twitter.

“I’m not one to shy away from expressing unpopular opinions. So here goes. I saw Fury Road. I get why people like it. But it isn’t feminist.”

Ehm, yes? Should it have been? We kinda gathered that it wasn’t from the trailer and even then that statement is debatable. On the one hand, the movie depicts the women as willing and brave enough to stand up for themselves. On the other hand, most of them don’t exactly wear much for the course of the movie.

Anita went on to clarify and defend that statement with other tweets.

“On the surface, Mad Max is about resisting a cartoonish version of misogyny. But that resistance takes the form of more glorified violence.”

Ehm, yes? It’s Mad Max. Cartoonish villains and hyperbolic violence is sort of the point. It’s basically what the series is based on and what most people expected and wanted to see from this reboot. Naturally there are other forms this resistance could have taken, but that feels like a job for a far more serious movie.

“Sometimes violence may be necessary for liberation from oppression, but it’s always tragic. Fury Road frames it as totally fun and awesome.”

True, it’s always tragic, but the movie doesn’t exactly portray it as a visit to Disneyland. Look, the movie isn’t exactly plot heavy, we all know that. However, fun doesn’t enter the equation for any of the characters. Most of the time they’re scared, as anyone not used to fighting psychopaths armed with guns and heavy explosives from a moving vehicle would be.

You could argue that this puts the brides in the role of damsels in distress, but does it? They take every chance they get to contribute, which even costs one of them her life.

“Fury Road is different from many action films in that it lets some women participate as equal partners in a cinematic orgy of male violence.”

Violence is an exclusively male feature, is it?

“As a film Mad Max absolutely adores its gritty future. The camera caresses acts of violence in the same way it caresses the brides’ bodies.”

“We are not things is a great line, but doesn’t work when the plot and ESPECIALLY the camera treats them like things from start to finish.”

Ok, those arguments are a lot better. Again, the series is built on violence, so of course they’re going to find good shots to capture said violence on camera. Does that also mean it’s fine for them to find shots that best objectify the brides?

Probably not, no. It does add kind of a note of irony to the line “We are not things.”

However, the argument does suffer a bit when she blames the plot of doing this as well. We’re not quite sure what she means, there. They don’t have a lot of character, sure, but nobody in the movie does and they arguably have more than 90% of the cast. They are referred to as property, but only by the villains who we’re clearly not meant to agree or sympathize with.

“Feminism doesn’t simply mean women getting to partake in typical badass “guy stuff”. Feminism is about redefining our social value system.”

“It makes me profoundly sad that mainstream pop culture now interprets feminism to mean “women can drive fast and stoically kill people too!”

These we agree with. The whole issue is far more complex and has elements rooted deep in various cultural aspects. The stoic badass is kind of a tired trope in general, so seeing it used for a female character isn’t exactly reason to declare total equality has been  reached.

However, we seriously question the point of attacking Mad Max. This was not a movie concerned with these issues.  It was concerned with bringing us the best action it could with a flimsy plot to justify said action.

We'd say it delivered

We’d say it delivered

Not every movie needs to be about the struggles of feminism or have some kind of deep emotional or philosophical message. Some movies should be, sure. By all means, explore new ground and broach new topics in movies.

However, if you had crammed it into Mad Max, odds are it would simply have come across as utterly tone deaf and forced. Sometimes you have to pick between making a movie and making a statement. They wanted to make a movie.

Let’s look at a more recent and probably more deserving target of Anita’s attention, The Witcher 3. Now, let’s be clear, we love the Witcher. It’s an incredibly deep rpg that highlights a lot of the best points of the fantasy genre, despite its flaws.

One of those flaws is that, yes, it’s kinda sexist. Talk all you want about it having strong and independent women in it, that doesn’t change the fact that the game also lets you collect naked pictures of most of these women.

Strangely, that’s not what drew Anita’s attention on Twitter. Maybe she thought it was too obvious, but instead she focussed on the following.

“In The Witcher 3 you get to play as Ciri for short segments but be warned enemies will yell nasty gendered insults at her while she fights.”

“The Witcher 3 does to Ciri what Arkham City did to Catwoman. Thugs yell “bitch” and “whore” and sexually harass both women as you play them.”

“Enemies in Witcher 3 yell gendered insults at the playable female character but insults thrown at the male lead are decidedly not gendered.”

This is such a strange complaint to us. Obviously we’re not saying people should be allowed to yell whatever they want at passing women or anything, but was anyone else actually bothered by this? The immediate argument many people will of course jump to immediately is that the enemies hurl insults at Geralt as well.

Anita considered that.

“Enemies call Geralt “freak” & “mutant’ due to fictional prejudice against magic. When they call Ciri “cunt” it’s rooted in real life sexism.”

The main problem with her argument is that it’s plain wrong.

Yes, there is prejudice against magic in the world of the Witcher. That’s not news to anyone who’s familiar with the other games in the series. However, that’s not why they call Geralt freak or Mutant.

Geralt is a Witcher. He voluntarily underwent mutation that allows him to do what he does. For all intents and purposes, Geralt is no longer fully human. That’s the reason for the insults. Granted, this is still fictional prejudice.

She is correct in saying that calling a woman a cunt is rooted in real life sexism. However, we’re gonna need a bloody long piece of paper if we want to write down everything from the Witcher that is rooted in real life. That’s the sort of fantasy they set out to create.

If you want to get angry, the fact that she went from warrior maiden, to barwench to somewhere in between seems like a better target.

If you want to get angry, the fact that she went from warrior maiden, to bar wench to somewhere in between seems like a better target.

They wanted something that was like our world and yet very different, due to the fantasy elements. They took both the good and bad parts, like sexism,  of our world to do this. This part of the reason why we cannot take her next tweet seriously.

“Also the “it’s realistic for enemies to sexually harass female characters” excuse is nonsense in fantasy games filled with ghouls & wraiths.”

Eh, is it?

First off, the game is set in medieval times. Women’s rights were not exactly much of a thing back then. Furthermore, as we said earlier, it is inspired by our own world during that time. Guess what, people were pretty damn sexists back then.

Secondly, let’s consider the context here. A woman gets attacked by bandits and fights back, injuring or killing several of them. How are they going to respond? Politely comment on her swordplay? No, they are going to angrily lash our verbally at the easiest thing they can identify about their enemy. In this case, this would be that she’s female.

A bandit going “Ugh, you have struck me, you mean person” would snap your immersion like a dry twig.

Finally, saying it’s nonsense because of the fantasy elements is a terrible argument. The fact that there are fantasy elements in a story does not immediately sever any possible connection that story has to our world. By that logic you could say that it’s nonsense that the characters need to eat, drink or even breathe because their world has ghouls and wraiths in it.

“If fantasy fiction is serious about addressing oppressions like sexism then the narrative should be focused on struggles around that issue.”

The issue is not that black and white and it barely applies here.

This argument opens with a pretty big if. Sure, if you set out to write a story like that, then that is what you should be focussing on. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t ever have it as a theme without devoting all of your attention to it. You’d just get a lot of stories hitting the exact same notes and the only result would be that we’d get incredibly bored with the whole thing.

The writers behind the Witcher 3 quite clearly weren’t writing a story about sexism. It would have fit into the series about as well as a pink elephant with a monocle, considering the naked women collecting aspect of the series we mentioned earlier.

Asking the Witcher to talk to us about sexism is like asking Team Ninja to program the girls from Dead or Alive to complain about people staring at their boobs. Sexism is worth talking about and we should keep the debate going, but these are not the people for the job and you can’t blame them for not setting out with the intention of making everyone happy.

In a way we can see why Anita chose to talk about these two things. They were big and got a lot of media attention. This attention was something she could then turn to a topic few other people were talking about and point out her side of things. Not a bad idea.

However, for every good argument we found, there was also one that was easy to argue with or dismantle. The second to last tweet mentioned in this article about realism in a fantasy setting struck us as particularly poor. It doesn’t address arguments made against what she’s saying beyond calling them stupid with little to no clarification.

That’s kind of unprofessional  at best and childish at worst.

Furthermore, with some of these arguments it doesn’t feel like she’s calling for equal treatment as much as she’s calling for censorship. That is something we are not in favour of and therefore will not support.

The world is generally a nice place, but it has its dark side and there’s no use pretending that it doesn’t. While they are terrible things and we should work to eliminate them, violence (sexual or not) and sexism are part of our world. When it comes to sexism and sexual violence, Anita seems to be saying that you can never show them unless you plan to spend all of your time talking about why they are bad.

Perhaps that’s not her intention, but that’s the problem with Twitter. It’s not exactly the best platform for an intellectual debate.

As we said at the beginning of this article, Anita is working towards a great goal. Her experiences in this field can hopefully help her to actually change things. However, we’re a bit concerned she might be working too hard to ensure she has the unpopular opinion now. It leaves us wondering if there aren’t more deserving targets.

So, what do you think? Are you completely on board with everything Anita’s saying, or are you like us and do you feel that she’s made a few statements that should be challenged? Let us know in the comments below!

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